O'Connell 'honoured' to join ROG, BOD and Hayes in Ireland's 100 club

‘I’m very competitive, that would be one of my biggest strengths,’ says the Ireland captain.

Murray Kinsella reports from the Millenium Stadium

Paul O'Connell O'Connell speaks to his Ireland team during their captain's run in Cardiff this afternoon. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

PAUL JEREMIAH O’CONNELL, a legend of Irish rugby and soon to be a 100-cap man.

Tomorrow in Cardiff, the 35-year-old reaches that much-discussed milestone and this afternoon he admitted “it’s a nice little group of Irish guys who have done it before that I’m joining, so I’m very honoured.”

Indeed, Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara and John Hayes are esteemed company, but O’Connell is more than worthy.

Perhaps the most famous Jeremiah of them all is the ‘weeping prophet,’ and coincidentally it’s been said only recently that O’Connell is capable of moving teammates to tears with his words alone.

If Jeremiah was sent by god on an expedition to lead humankind in the right direction, then which rugby god created O’Connell to drive Ireland on their path to success?

It’s not difficult to argue that the legendary second row has been the key figure behind any success Ireland have had in the last decade. Of course, the players around him on the greatest days deserve equal credit but O’Connell has been the leader for so long now.

The truly astonishing thing is that the Limerick man continues to perform at such a high level despite his relatively advanced age.

“Look, I’m very competitive, that would be one of my biggest strengths,” said O’Connell after Ireland’s captain’s run at the Millenium Stadium this afternoon. “I certainly can’t run over people or unlock defences with my footwork, or whatever, but I’m certainly very competitive.

Paul O'Connell O'Connell was in typically good humour in the Millennium Stadium. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I enjoy being part of a team and helping drive teams on, trying to make them successful and trying to get the best out of people. I’ve always enjoyed a leadership role whether I’ve been captain or not.

“It’s part of my personality that’s featured in my rugby for most of my career.”

Impressively, O’Connell also appears to be improving with age. While he claims he is not the athlete he once was, that much is not wholly evident when watching the second row on the pitch.

Many of his teammates have suggested O’Connell is like a fine red wine, getting better all the time.

“I think there’s certain things that continue to improve,” answered O’Connell when that point was put to him.

“I think physically, I’m probably not where I was, but that’s the challenge, I suppose – to try and get to where I was when I was 25 or 26. I’m probably not there at the moment, I think there’s still work to do in that regard.

“But there’s other parts of it; I think experience certainly counts. I think it’s something you don’t have a lot of respect for when you’re young, but there is a lot to be said for it.

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Paul O'Connell O'Connell will lead Ireland out once again in Cardiff. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I’ve been through ups and downs with injury, been through ups and downs with teams that have been successful and unsuccessful or underachieved. I suppose you learn a bit along the way and learn to manage yourself and help out the team a little better.”

The hope for Munster and Ireland fans is that O’Connell still has many more caps to add to his forthcoming 100th, particularly in playing on beyond the World Cup later this year.

Physically, despite his protestation of decline, that task seems within O’Connell’s scope. The Young Munster man is famed for his professionalism and he points out that he has not felt the pinch of a growing disinterest that other veterans before him have.

“I’ve always been interested and motivated in rugby training or weight training or fitness or meetings or video analysis,” says O’Connell. “It’s never been a chore for me.

“I think that happens to some guys maybe towards the end of their careers, it becomes a chore for them. It’s never been a chore for me; I’ve always enjoyed it and I still enjoy it. I enjoy it more than ever and that’s probably one of the reasons I’m still playing.”

Long may it continue.

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Murray Kinsella

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